What is social polarization? The process of segregation within a society emerging from poverty, social exclusion and income inequality has led to the formation of various social groups, from high-income to low-income. Each group has experienced different upbringings and educational opportunities. As a result, within the same society we see separate schools for different income groups. Many research studies have corroborated that students from high income families are more successful than those from low income backgrounds.
All the skills of communication, conflict resolution, and collaboration are ways to prevent conflict from escalating into polarization which divides a community. However, it is important to pay attention for warning signs because polarization can be so damaging.
A state of hostility, antagonism, and conflict between individuals, groups, or factions. This state can easily become a damaging injury which will, if untended, fester and infect an entire social structure (neighborhood, workgroup, family, organization). As each side takes action, consciously or reactively, to promote or defend its interests and ‘territory’ against the other, consequences can hurt non-aligned stakeholders and weaken the whole social fabric. There are definite negative trends in civic life and public discussion in the US away from civility and unity toward division and disrespect. We see it most clearly at a national level and in the media. However, it also arises in cities and neighborhoods. As a leader, do not underestimate the importance of these skills and habits. Be vigilant for any signs of polarization in your neighborhood as it is something that can grow and spread rapidly. If it does, it can undermine past good work and paralyze an association’s ability to address important issues for the common good.
Proactive strategies to counter these powerful patterns are straightforward, but can be challenging to implement. Courage and perseverance over time are usually necessary to overcome likely resistance and recover from any setbacks. We could Improve communication channels and create forums for dialogue, use guidelines and neutral facilitation to maintain respectful interaction, take opportunities to build a working level of trust, strengthen the non-polarized middle, or encourage others who do not identify with any side to become more active as bridge-builders, voices of moderation, and advocates for stakeholders at risk, etc.